News / Toronto

Toronto fire and paramedic services to make emergency call data available online

In the past, many of Toronto’s departments have been “very territorial about data” and hesitant to release it to the public because of concerns about how it will be used

Putting information about emergency calls, like those handled by the Toronto fire department, online could improve public safety, advocates say.

Torstar News Service file

Putting information about emergency calls, like those handled by the Toronto fire department, online could improve public safety, advocates say.

City councillors are getting ready to make vital information about fires and medical emergencies available to the public — including tech-savvy Torontonians who might just make the next life-saving app.

A council committee approved two motions Monday to have the fire and paramedic services make data from their LiveCAD system — which tracks calls for help in real time — open for the public to see and download.

Both were instructed to work with the city’s legal department to make the information available without compromising the privacy of Torontonians. One solution proposed to the committee, for example, was releasing the nearest major intersection to each incident rather than the specific address.

Coun. Paul Ainslie, who’s spearheading a number of improvements to Toronto’s open data policies, said having the information will make it easier for city staff and the public to come up with innovate ways to improve public safety.

“Other jurisdictions use that kind of data to determine which buildings could be catching fire soon depending on their condition,” Ainslie said, citing New York, Philadelphia and Boston as examples.

In the past, many of Toronto’s departments have been “very territorial about data” and hesitant to release it to the public because of concerns about how it will be used, Ainslie said.

The only information Toronto Fire Services has on the city’s open data site today, for example, is a list of fire stations.

“In Scarborough, we call that the phone book,” quipped Ainslie.

But, the fire department is ready for that to change, Division Chief Frank Pappone told the committee. The service has made “tremendous strides” in the last year in learning how to release information while protecting people’s privacy, he said.

Toronto Paramedic Services also considers the change a “positive step,” said spokeswoman Kim McKinnon.

Both services were asked to report back to the committee about their progress in June. 

Ainslie’s next step is getting Toronto Police Service on board with open data as well. He and Coun. Shelley Carroll, who sits on the police service board, will make a similar request of the police force soon. 

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